Welcome to Orlando. Truly, we mean that. No doubt, you've been seeing Florida a lot in the headlines lately. Just know that we're not all like those knuckle-dragging Gilead motherfuckers running things in Tallahassee. We're an out and inclusive city, especially in our music scene. And here's where you can get legitimately local.
Between Hard Rock Live, House of Blues, Dr. Phillips Center, Orlando Amphitheater, Amway Center and Camping World Stadium, the major touring acts are covered. But those are just places to see concerts. A music scene, however, is where you're not just at shows but among the artists.
For that, the Mills 50 neighborhood — specifically, the 1000 block of Mills Avenue — is what you need to know first. Nothing embodies the essence of the city's underground like the gateway of Will's Pub and Uncle Lou's.
Will's is one of Orlando's most storied music institutions and arguably the de facto heart of the city's music scene. Most of the buzzworthy indie acts that come through are on the Will's Pub stage. Rock, punk, Americana, metal, electronic, rap — all of it happens here in a safe space where you'll rub elbows with the scene's musicians and movers. Add in intimate sister bar Lil Indie's and patio bar Dirty Laundry, where more intimate performances happen, and the Will's Pub mini-complex easily becomes one of Orlando's most high-value destinations for live music.
But Uncle Lou's a block down Mills is where Orlando's freak flag flies loudest. A true DIY dive, Lou's is the hothouse for the area's experimental and outsider artists. Between Will's and Lou's, you'll get the most happening, most authentic street-level snapshot of the Orlando music scene every night of the week.
In Audubon Park, Park Ave CDs — Orlando's flagship independent record shop — hosts in-store performances and appearances by local stars and touring indie names. Nearby Stardust Video & Coffee is a favorite neo-boho hangout featuring an eclectic range of music.
Another fertile hub is the burgeoning Milk District. The grand old Plaza Live packs a concert calendar on par with House of Blues. The native pulse in this neighborhood is in spots like Iron Cow and the Nook on Robinson, where interesting live events like the monthly Circuit Church and Please Understand music showcases happen.
Downtown, the Social and the Beacham are legendary next-door sister venues featuring primetime concerts and dance nights. In downtown's Thornton Park neighborhood, the Abbey is a nice mid-sized venue whose concert calendar has gotten conspicuously cooler lately. The most truly local experience downtown, though, is the Falcon, an intimate neighborhood art bar that occasionally hosts good underground bands.
Other noteworthy outposts of live music include the arty Henao Contemporary Center and the headbanging Haven Lounge. Due to its recent urban renaissance, nearby Sanford is also a notable frontier of the greater metro's live scene with leading stages like Tuffy's Music Box, which has featured the Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood and North Mississippi Allstars, and the newly expanded West End Trading Co., where bands like Less Than Jake can be seen.
Maybe the dance floor's more your jam than a mosh pit? Well, what you may not, but now should, know about Orlando is that we've got deep dance-music heritage. During the 1990s rave revolution, Orlando was one of the world's premier dance scenes. Although those glory days are long past, vestiges not only remain but have seen recent revival.
Downtown's Ace Cafe occupies the hallowed space that was once legendary dance club the Edge. Now, it keeps the Edge's bass-booming spirit alive with old-school dance parties stacked with golden-era DJs like Josh Wink, DJ Dan, Frankie Bones and Micro. Their Backyard at the Ace outdoors space keeps the party moving, with a little more elbow room.
Nearby, the Vanguard is itself a recent overhaul of another holy spot from Orlando's club heyday. Originally the home to house-music mecca Club Firestone, a nightclub as globally famous and scene-defining as the aforementioned Edge, the Vanguard upholds the site's dance pedigree almost full-time. Unlike the throwback glory of the events at Ace, the Vanguard has a more forward foot into the modern EDM world, hosting names like Diplo, Steve Aoki, Flux Pavilion, Shaq Diesel and Subtronics.
Rounding out Orlando's dance scene are hotspots like iconic gay club Southern Nights, classic alternative bastion Barbarella, electronic music magnet Celine and hip-hop haven Tier.